animefringe august 2003 / reviews

Oh My Goddess! Vol.16: Mystery Child
Format: left-right manga
Production: Dark Horse Comics / Kosuke Fujishima
Comments: Keiichi and Belldandy face one of their most significant threats to date in the latest installment of this beautifully illustrated series.
Animefringe Reviews:
Oh My Goddess! Vol.16: Mystery Child

If there's anything that bothers me about Oh My Goddess!, it's the relatively small amount of change that occurs throughout the lifespan of the classic manga series. While characters aren't entirely static, their development can be hard to make out at times. I have trouble summarizing series such as Brain Powered, Fushigi Yugi, or Battle Angel (also known as Gunnm) to a new reader due to the various twists and turns that take place as each story's respective plot unfolds.

With Oh My Goddess, it's easy.

A lonely boy named Keiichi Morisato suddenly finds himself with more woman than he can handle when he inadvertently wishes for the goddess Belldandy to be with him forever. A touching romance between the earth-bound guy and heaven-sent beauty blossoms, but before they can take the relationship too far, Belldandy's sisters - the elder Urd and younger Skuld - end up living with the couple as well. Various elements threaten the bond between the two lovers time and time again, from human rivals to demonic foes, and each time, Keiichi's love for Belldandy (and her love for him) proves too strong.

Now, I'm not suggesting that this isn't a very entertaining manga series. In fact, it's easily one of my favorites. However, for the last few books, I've grown increasingly concerned that the story will begin to stagnate. I mean, how many times can I stand to see Keiichi and Belldandy come tauntingly close to kissing only to be interrupted by one of her sisters, and explosion, or a threat to the world? Stories can get away with little character development and continue to entertain - look at Ranma 1/2, for an example. I mean, it took twenty books of that series before we even learned about the lead character's mother!

The question here, I suppose, would be whether or not after sixteen volumes and more than ten years of publication Oh My Goddess! is still worth reading.

It sure is.

Perhaps it helps that in this, the sixteenth volume of the manga, some significant events actually transpire. Unlike most other volumes, which feature a few small story installments, this release is centered on one notable event in the lives of Keiichi, Belldandy, and their friends. A young boy of uncertain origin (hence the title) finds Belldandy and appears desperate for her to remember him. Despite his age, Keiichi can't help but feel jealous over the attention Bell is giving the kid, but there's far more to this mystery guest than anyone in Keiichi's household would ever suspect.

I felt that this was the most enjoyable installment of the series in quite a long time. Again, it's not like I was bored with Oh My Goddess!, but monotony was slowly beginning to appear upon the horizon. Keiichi and Belldandy didn't announce their engagement in this volume or anything so spectacular, but interesting things happen, and it was a very fulfilling read.

As usual, the artwork for the series is nothing less than some of the most beautiful, delicate linework I've ever seen in a comic book series. Shading is impeccably smooth, and the character designs have evolved into some lovely visions for the eyes. I'm very glad Dark Horse continues to publish the series in it's larger than average format (smaller than a regular comic book, but larger than most TOKYOPOP releases), for this is a series with artistic details that demand to be seen. The paper it's printed on is a vibrant white, bringing out the contrast of the visuals, and the cover is glossy with an attractive image of Belldandy, Keiichi, Urd, and Skuld on the face.

I've come to expect this from Dark Horse, but I'll mention it anyway. There are no noticeable typographical flaws in the book, and the text reads without a hitch. Sure, the book may cost almost twice as much as the average manga nowadays, but in this case, you're really getting what you're paying for.

In my opinion, the only technical alteration that would perfect Dark Horse's presentation would actually be the lack of one. That is, I wish the book hadn't been flipped (it reads from left to right with mirrored artwork). With the abundant amount of books being published to read from right to left lately, it feels odd to read manga from left to right.

So what we have here is a more than solid entry into the Oh My Goddess! library of manga. While the characters still have room to grow and change, this release has bolstered my confidence in Kosuke Fujishima's ability to tell a good tale. If long-term romance stories with a hint of mythology woven throughout the plot are appealing, then this book is required reading. If you start at the beginning (as I'd recommend) and find you enjoy Oh My Goddess! as much as I do, then you'll be set for at least fifteen other volumes to read.